Psalm 22:1–9; Genesis 38; Matthew 13:36–46

Originally posted 2/9/2016—revised and updated 2/8/2018

Psalm 22:1–8: This opening line of this psalm of supplication—”My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?—is among the most familiar lines in the Psalms because it is what Jesus spoke in his agony on the cross.  [Although he spoke it in his native tongue of Aramaic rather than Hebrew.] Anyone who heard those lines on that fateful day knew the lines that followed spoke of the desperate realization that unlike the sunny optimism of the preceding psalm, God’s rescue was not forthcoming:
Far from my rescue are the words that I roar.
My God, I call out by day and You do not answer,
by night-no stillness for me.” (2b, 3)

To be deserted by a silent God was perhaps even greater torment for Jesus than his very real physical pain. Our psalmist goes on to plead with God:
In You did our fathers trust,
they trusted, and You set them free.” (5)

Why would God listen to them but not the pleas of the psalmist?  Not only did God listen to his forefathers, he acted on their behalf:
To You they cried out, and escaped,
in You they trusted and were not put to shame.” (6).

The psalmist asks the eternal question we all ask at some point in our lives: You’re there for others, God, but why have you abandoned me?

He goes on to theorize that perhaps God’s silence is because of his inherent unworthiness which is evident by the mocking disrespect of the men around him:
But I am a worm and no man,
a disgrace among men, by the people reviled.
All who see me do mock me—
they curl their lips, they shake their head ” (7, 8)

In some ways this cry contains even greater pathos that the psalm’s first line. It is one thing to be mocked by one’s peers but to believe one is unworthy even to be heard by God only compounds the agony. Yet, the world is full of this self-loathing that keeps so many from discovering the comfort and succor that only God through jesus Christ can provide.

And yet… a tiny flame of hope burns, a hope that God will indeed hear his cries:
Who turns to the Lord, He will set him free.
He will save him, for he delights in him.” (9)

This is the hope that we have to believe that despite the agony and the feeling of abandonment, Jesus still felt as he hung on the cross. That God’s abandonment was only temporary. It is the same hope that we can call on even in the deepest night of the soul.

Genesis 38: One wonders why the story of Judah’s offspring interrupts the flow of the Joseph story. Judah has married the Canaanite woman, Shua, who bears him two sons, Er and Onan. Er marries Tamar but he is “wicked in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord put him to death.” (7) Judah asks the younger son Onan to impregnate the widow Tamar, but he only masturbates “so that he would not give offspring to his brother.” (9) For this, God puts him to death as well. I think it’s crucial to note that Onan died not because he “spilled his seed on the ground” but because he selfishly did not follow Judah’s orders to continue the ancestral line. Judah then invites the widowed Tamar to live in his house.

Judah’s wife, Shua, dies and following the requisite period of mourning, Judah is on the move. Tamar hears this and stations herself at the city gate. She is veiled, so Judah does not recognize her. Thinking her to be a prostitute, Judah promises to pay with a “kid from the flock,” but Tamar insists n a pledge that he will indeed pay for her services:  “Your signet and your cord, and the staff that is in your hand.” (18) Judah hands these items over to Tamr and has sex with her, resulting in her impregnation.

Judah eventually discovers that the woman he had intercourse with is pregnant is Tamar who “has played the whore” and he demands she be burned. But Tamar cleverly produces the pledge items, making it clear to all that Judah is the father, so he must relent, “and said, “She is more in the right than I, since I did not give her to my son Shelah.” (26). But he never has sex with her again.

In an eerie replay of Rebekah and her twins Jacob and Esau, Tamar also has twins. In order to ensure the firstborn child has the right of primogeniture, the midwife wraps a red thread around the wrist of the first one to emerge. That hand is withdrawn back into the womb and the second child comes out first.

So why is this story about Judah and Tamar here? Is it more than just a tale of yet more family dysfunction? Somehow I think the story has symbolic parallels to the future history of Israel. Judah marries a Canaanite woman, just as the Israelite generations to come would do. Very little good comes of Judah’s marriage, and this story must stand as a warning to the Jews in Babylon about what happens when intermarriage forbidden by God occurs. Moreover, it is something of a morality tale for all of us, as well.

Matthew 13:36–46: Once again, Jesus accedes to the disciple’s request to explain a parable. This time it’s the one about the wheat and weeds. And again, Jesus is very clear in his explanation: The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one and the enemy who sowed them is the devil” (37-39a). He also makes it clear that the harvest “is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels.” (39b)  Following the judgement at the end of history, the evildoers “will [be thrown] into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (42) We will see this acted out big time in Revelation, for whom I believe Jesus’ words was a major inspiration for the judgement scene near the end of that apocalyptic book. There can be little question that this verse must have certainly been an inspiration for the lurid paintings of the Last Judgement by Hyronomous Bosch back around 1486 and also Michelangelo’s painting of the last judgement behind the altar in the Sistine Chapel. 

This is also an uncomfortable parable for us since most of prefer not to think about the possibility of there ever being a last judgement at the end of time. But Jesus is awfully clear here as he explains every detail of this parable. We cannot ignore it. At least there is the wonderful promise, “the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.” (43)

At this point, Jesus focuses on the nature of the Kingdom of Heaven, describing its myriad qualities with a series of with what I think of as a series of “mini-parables employing the similes of “treasure hidden in a  field” (44) and “a merchant in search of fine pearls.” (45) In both cases the discoverer pays a price to obtain that treasure or those pearls. But he does so happily. As should we. Above all, Jesus is telling us that following him on the journey will be arduous and its rewards are well hidden, but if we seek to understand and follow, the rewards will be far greater than buried treasure and a string of pearls.


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